Education system must shift focus to lifelong learning for the workforce, says Minister Chan Chun Sing

The education system must change its approach and upskill workers yearly to cater to a generation that switches jobs every four to five years.

Nicki Chan

Probably that one person singing in the shower at 2am.

Published: 11 February 2022, 1:47 PM

How Singapore’s education system defines success needs to be changed, said Minister of Education Chan Chun Sing on Thursday (Feb 10). 

This is because about a quarter of Singapore’s workforce may need to acquire new skills and knowledge yearly in order to keep up with switching jobs every four to five years. 

In a workforce of three million, this means that about half a million people need to be retrained per year. 

Mr Chan said that a “lifetime participation rate” in training and education is what the education system wants to achieve at large, instead of the current practice of measuring cohort participation rates in universities and other higher learning institutes. 

“The definition of success for our education system cannot be just how well we produce a cohort of 30 to 40 thousand students each year for the job market. It should be how well we do that plus retraining and upgrading about half a million adult learners each year,” said Mr Chan at the Straits Times Education Forum 2022.

Mr Chan explained that back in the day, a person might need two decades to prepare for what would be his first, but also his only, job for life. 

“But what if we need to do 10 different jobs for life, changing every four to five years on average? This is our generation,” he said.

Mr Chan detailed four areas where the education system must change to meet its new goal of continually retraining and upskilling adult learners.   

First, he emphasised the need for lifelong learning as no amount of education early in life can prepare Singaporeans for work. 


Mr Chan added that only continual learning can help people stay current for the rest of their lives. PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTHOPIA/AUDREY ONG


Second, he said Singaporeans must let go of the idea that there is a pre-defined path to success. The number of students in any cohort enrolling in institutes of higher learning is not so important.

“It matters more, much more, how many of our students can acquire the appropriate degrees, diplomas, graduate diplomas and even stackable modules and micro-credentials throughout and at relevant points in their lives, to meet their ever-evolving life cycle needs,” said Mr Chan. 

Third, Mr Chan said skills and knowledge must be continuously recombined to create value in the quickly evolving job market. 

“The skills to learn fast, unlearn and relearn become more important than getting a particular grade at a particular point in life,” he said.

Fourth, the education system needs to shorten the time to market for skills and knowledge. There must be faster movement from research, leading technologies and market practices to schools and back to the economy. 

The education system must therefore take a wiser approach to internships, industrial collaborations and alumni engagement, he added.

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